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Man on a mission

He's not embraced, but Totti leads Roma at own pace

Posted: Thursday March 15, 2007 11:30AM; Updated: Thursday March 15, 2007 4:03PM
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Perhaps Italy's most important player, Roma's Francesco Totti has never made the jump to one of Serie A's three super-clubs.
Perhaps Italy's most important player, Roma's Francesco Totti has never made the jump to one of Serie A's three super-clubs.
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No one told Francesco Totti that there is a path to superstardom that's quicker and smoother than others.

The AS Roma captain has the talent, of course, as well as drive, the will to win and health -- all the qualities which we in the media regularly extol.

But if you want to take the quicker road to glory, at some point you also need to make the basic decision to join one of the world's perennial super-clubs.

You know who they are -- the half-dozen teams who regularly reach the Champions League quarterfinals, the ones where you can be surrounded by players of equal and greater talent, who will enable you to take the odd night off.

They're also the ones who are on TV, the ones the sponsors love, the ones which can make you a household name outside your country's borders.

Move to Manchester United, Milan or Barcelona and, if you have the skills to back it up, you will -- to paraphrase Gerald Durrell -- "inherit the world."

But ask Totti, would Wayne Rooney be as big as he is if he were still at Everton? Would Sergio Ramos be anything other than a "good, solid pro" if he had stayed at Valencia? If Andrea Pirlo had never left his home in Brescia, would we hail him as a great playmaker?

The answer, more often than not, is no. Which is why players like Totti who -- for whatever reason, whether it be loyalty or big-fish-in-small-pond syndrome -- regularly turn down the chance to join the super-clubs are a special breed.

Southampton's Matt Le Tissier was one, as was Julen Guerrero of Athletic Bilbao. In their own way, before they took on new challenges at the end of their careers, Gabriel Batistuta and Henrik Larsson, with their enduring loyalty to Fiorentina and Celtic, respectively, epitomized this as well.

Yet there is no greater example of this than Totti. Born and bred in Rome, he made his debut for the Giallorossi -- the team he supported all his life -- 13 days after his 18th birthday and never left.

While Roma is by no means a "small club," apart from a three-year spell under Fabio Capello at the turn of the millennium, it never matched the big boys in terms of spending or star power. In fact, even now, it remains a heavily indebted club, one which has to scrimp and save each summer to bring in -- often B-list -- players.

And yet it is on that stage that Totti plies his trade. At 30, he is enjoying one of his best seasons. Roma currently sits in second in Serie A and last week knocked out heavily favored Lyon to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. In the second leg of that matchup, Totti uncorked one of his trademark pinpoint accurate did-you-see-that 50-yard passes to set up Mancini's stepover-laden goal, after opening the scoring with the kind of header a genuine center forward would be proud of.

Totti is not a genuine striker, but, as in previous seasons, he is Roma's main source of goals. As of Thursday, he has scored 18 in 26 Serie A games this season and he's just two away from breaking his personal one-year record. With 143 Serie A goals under his belt, he has a decent chance of becoming only the sixth player in history to score 200 in the Italian top flight.

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